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How Strong Does an Athlete Need to Be?

As an athlete, how strong do you have to be to be a good athlete?

LOADED QUESTION – but here we go!

In simplest terms, being strong is the ability to produce force against something. In a squat, it’s the ability to produce force to move the weight up and not get squashed by it.

In athletics, it’s the ability to produce force against the ground to move forward quickly or jump up to catch/hit a ball.

So, one might see how being stronger (or being able to produce more force) may make athletics easier by being able to move faster and jump higher. But how strong does an athlete need to be considered good?

The honest answer is we don’t know. Many smart people have speculated numbers for different exercises, but this has many problems.

The most obvious is that athletes aren’t competing in the sport by lifting a certain amount of weight (unless they are truly lifting athletes, aka powerlifting or weightlifting athletes). A hockey player doesn’t have to skate with a barbell on their back (talk about difficult).

Another problem is that taking strength numbers from a specific exercise and comparing it to a different exercise doesn’t work. Maybe one athlete can back squat a “good” number, but another can front squat a “good” number – is one better than the other? Will we ever really know?

The most basic answer is this – any athlete that can progressively add weight to whatever lift they are focusing on over time will get stronger and therefore be able to produce more force. This, in theory, should make for a better athlete.

Is there any magic number we’re looking for? Not really. Rather we’re looking for a higher number over time at a similar effort level.

But focusing solely on one specific lift and increasing that number can have drawbacks. Strength is specific to the movement. If we focus too much on one specific movement, we may be doing the body a disservice by not doing other variations to prepare an athlete for other movements.

For example, if we focus all our time on increasing back squat numbers, an athlete will be very strong in producing force straight down in a relatively slow fashion. But what about producing force laterally (sideways) or slightly forward/backward?

How about producing force fast? It can start to make your head spin if you go down that rabbit hole.

Long story short – as an athlete, we should spend time getting GENERALLY stronger in various lifts and movements. We don’t need to spend all our time and effort going up 5 pounds on one lift because we don’t compete with a bar on our back, which may take away from the sport itself.

Don’t get too caught up in specific numbers. Rather try to make those numbers go up progressively over time!

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